Facebook posts, comments and likes could get you sued
BE CAREFUL what you post, like and comment on.
Australians are showing signs of being more litigious over social media slights, with lawyers noting a rise in inquiries about defamation on Facebook.
Shine Lawyers' national defamation manager Peter Coggins said the firm had in recent months recorded a spike in calls from people who claim that their good names or business reputations have been sullied online.
And he warned that social media sledging could come back to bite participants, with the potential for courts to force them pay out thousands or even millions of dollars.
"There has been a definite spike, particularly in Facebook-related inquiries to Shine's call centre," Mr Coggins told news.com.au.
He said potential plaintiffs appeared to have been emboldened by actor Rebel Wilson's high-profile victory over Bauer Media in June, when the Victorian Supreme Court found the publisher had defamed her in a series of articles across its stable of magazines.
"I think by her taking a stand it has brought to people's attention the fact that we do have pretty strong defamation laws in Australia, and that you can't publish whatever you like."
And while Wilson's bid for millions of dollars in economic damages was unlikely to be replicated by many, Mr Coggins said establishing defamation via social media could be relatively straightforward.
"It is a reasonable person test, so if you write something that exposes someone to hatred, ridicule or contempt in the eyes of a reasonable person, you could defame them," he said.
Not all online spats would meet the criteria of defamation, though. "Often it's a tit-for-tat relationship dispute, like two exes might be saying things about each other - that doesn't usually get over the line," Mr Coggins said.
Small business owners were more likely to have a case if disgruntled customers wrote inaccurate and damaging reviews, he said, citing the case of an electrician "whose former client made defamatory comments about his workmanship and ethics".
"They can sense when there's been a definite downturn in trade after someone has posted something," he said.
The amount of damages a court awards will depend on whether the defamatory remarks can be shown to have affected their business.
And, of course, the case might fall over if the post or claim is proven to be true.
Rebel Wilson will be laughing all the way to the bank once damages are assessed in the defamation case she won against Bauer Media. Picture: Scott Barbour
Rebel Wilson will be laughing all the way to the bank once damages are assessed in the defamation case she won against Bauer Media. Picture: Scott BarbourSource:Getty Images
While damages for hurt feelings and ridicule are capped at $380,000 - with payout in the vicinity of $10,000 to $50,000 more common - economic damages are not capped, Mr Coggins said, leaving open the possibility of damages in the millions, like what Rebel Wilson has sought.
The Hollywood star has claimed she had a number of lucrative movie roles cancelled in the wake of the articles that defamed her.
A Canberra woman last year won more than $182,000 in damages after the ACT Supreme Court found that she had been defamed on Facebook.
Former Capital Football boss Heather Reid sued former Canberra FC coach Stan Dukic over nine posts he made about her to his public profile in 2015, making the "baseless" suggestion that she was dishonest, a habitual liar, grossly incompetent and gender-biased in favour of the women's football code, Fairfax Media reported.
Meanwhile in Switzerland, a court ruled in May that merely liking someone else's Facebook post could amount to defamation.
A judge in the landmark ruling said that clicking the "like" button was an expression of a "value judgment" indicating support for the original post, which in this case described an animal-rights activist as "racist, anti-Semitic or fascist", the Telegraph reported.
The posts were made during a heated online discussion about which animal welfare groups should be allowed to take part in a vegan street festival.
HAVE YOU BEEN DEFAMED?
• Be aware that you only have one year from the date of the defamatory publication to institute legal proceedings.
• Take a screen shot to capture evidence of the comments as this is easier than requesting deleted data from Facebook. Then report the post.
• If you believe that comments have impacted you financially, such as a downturn in trade or contract work, gather all historical and current financial data to prove this.
• Don't engage directly with the person you believe has defamed you or anyone who has commented on their post.